Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor

Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 74
April 1, 1997

Last updated 29 Mar. 97 1730ET

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On  a  recent  trip  to  Grand  Cayman  we  ran  into a series of 
situations  concerning  eating  that  some  may  be interested in 
hearing   about.  In  a  nutshell  eating  out  is  an  expensive 
proposition on 7 Mile Beach strip and in GT. 

The  most out of line price was US$25 for breakfast at the Hyatt. 
It  was  a  buffet  style arrangement however all of the prepared 
'hot'  foods  were cold! Personally we felt more than ripped off. 
Mind  you  others  raved  about  the  place  & the breakfast. The 
setting  was  okay  but  again IMHO not worth the cost. On top of 
that  the room was open so birds kept on flying in to grab scraps 
from  the  vacated  tables.  Even  beat the serving staff for the 

The  next  place  of  notoriety  was  the Almond Tree. Albeit the 
management  is changing .. and we got the new manager. A promised 
wait  of  15  minutes  turned into almost an hour. When seated we 
suddenly  realized  that  most patrons were not eating - everyone 
was  waiting for their order to be filled. My wife and sister-in-
law  ordered seafoood linguini after the server assured them that 
in  contained  shrimp  &  lobster.  It  did  - one small scrap of 
lobster  and  two  teeny  tiny  shrimp.  When we commented to the 
server  she  said  that  she  had  noticed  that  this  had  been 
happening  lately  ...  hmmmm ... new manager.... When we brought 
our  complaint  to  the  manager  not  much happened- no offer of 
reduced  price,  etc.  and for an apology we got an excuse - 'I'm 
new...'  Interestingly  other clients were also complaining - and 
the  table  beside  us concurred with our complaint while another 
nearby  couple  just  got up and left - albeit without paying for 
their drinks. They were really upset!

Others  have  commented  on the Wharf - we concur over priced for 
what  you get - even if you are used to Cayman prices it still is 
over priced.

Now  the good news... breakfast at the Holiday Inn is also buffet 
-  US$8  -  far  better  than Hyatt. Also a good breakfast at the 
Treasure   Island  Resort  (same  price)  yet  much  quieter  ... 
therefore quicker service or a slower paced meal - your choice.

Big  Daddy's just south of the Treasure Island Resort is probably 
the  best  for  value for dinner. Most nights had a 'all-you-can-
eat'  special  at 'reason' (for Cayman) prices. Friday there is a 
happy  hour  -  free 'snacks' - our visit they had chicken wings, 
tacos, chili & other items. Drink prices are also good here.

Another  nice place is Rackman's almost in town. On a jetty, open 
air.  At  night  the  tarpon  glide past and you can feed them if 
inclined.  There  are  lights  along the jetty so you can readily 
see the fish.

the  Paradise  just  south  of the Atlantis Sub is a nice outdoor 
type  drinking  hole. Reasonable and friendly - though they don't 
care  if  you  get roaring drunk and fall out of the place - even 
though  one  of  their  patrons in this state was killed in a car 
accident  of  his  doing.  They  should  have  stopped  him  from 
driving.  Considering diving is the reason for most Cayman visits 
&  diving  and  drinking don't mix, IMHO the bar should have been 
more alert.

  The  Lone  Star  restaurant. I did not mention it because it is 
part  of  a restaurant chain. Usual tex/mex stuff - about mid way 
up  SMB.  It  has  a  good atmosphere & an 'interesting' decor. I 
wont  say  what  ,  just  to  entice  you  - look up when you get 
inside. Get there early.

One  solution  to  food costs is to normal plan of eating outside 
the  tourist  area  or  during  off  hours.  BTW  the eastern and 
southern  part of the island are cheaper and possibly better than 
SMB  restaurants. If you like local Caribbean food like salt fish 
&  ackee,  etc  you  will find such delicacies in these areas for 
around US$3.00

Another  solution  to high food costs, Kirk Supermarket. It is at 
the  bottom  of 7 Mile Beach. If your hotel has a small frig then 
get  fruit  & drink from Kirk. They also have a good sandwich bar 
and salad bar. The variety is as good as any supermarket.

And  if  you  really  have to have a 'fix' every fast food outlet 
imaginable is represented - I think I counted 6 Domino's Pizza.

as  a  final  bit  of humor - a woman on our plane was an obvious 
repeat  visitor  and  knew  about  the food costs. She had packed 
another  suitcase just with food - but she over did it and had to 
pay excess baggage costs. Not a happy camper was she! 


Costa  Rica's  Last  Train  Out.  A Brief Dash Up the Eco-tourism 

Costa   Rica.   Pristine  land  of  lost.   Brilliant,  brilliant 
green.   Exploding  volcanoes;  mountains,  hills,  and  valleys.  
Rivers  you  can  drink  from.  An eternity of beaches.  Enormous 
flowers.   Tropical  forests.   Animals  everywhere.  Air so lush 
you  want to bathe in it.  Picture an outdoor theme park the size 
of Wisconsin or the pacific northwest with heat and dinosaurs.

That's  the  brochure  kids;  now for a stroll down reality lane.  
This  was,  and is, a third world country.  Its infrastructure is 
overwhelmed,  shredded,  and  crumbling from sedentary officials, 
graft and the loss of its patron saint, us (US).  

You  want to talk roads?  A rent-a-car is $400 a week with a $750 
deductible.  Know  why?  The roads eat the cars.  You can go from 
four  lane to mud in 400 feet; from a two lane at 50 mph to a one 
way,  10  foot  wide bridge with 15 feet of warning.  Per capita, 
four  times  as  many  people die on these roads as do in the US.  
And you know we don t know how to drive.

How  about  sewer.   The older towns and villages dump raw sewage 
in  the  rivers, lakes and oceans.  The locals won t swim in some 
of  the  rivers  or  at  several  of  the  beaches.   When you re 
drinking  with them they can t believe you don t mind swimming in 
their  toilets.   The  surfers  answer is that if they trained at 
Redondo  and  Manhattan,  they  can dodge the slicks as they pump 
out of the estuaries.  Not quite the post card I had envisioned.

Air?   San  Jose ranks slightly better than LA; but below Houston 
in  air  quality.   The diesel is so thick and the traffic so bad 
you  can t  tell the difference between San Jose and Mexico City.  
Thank  God the rest of the country only supports one third of the 
country s cars and buses

Crime?   The  street  crime also ranks right up there with Mexico 
City  and Rome: primarily auto break ins, pick pockets, and purse 
thieves.   Street  people politely suggest that you require their 
services  whenever  you park your car.  You do.  You can pay them 
to  keep  their  friends  and  neighbors from robbing or damaging 
your  car  or  you risk suffering the consequences.  Fortunately, 
although  I  heard  a  lot about violence against people, I never 
saw  even  a  hint  of  it.  And we proudly patrolled some of the 
less  than cultural areas of the metropolis, in occasionally less 
than tip top physical condition.

Given  the  above,  it must be cheap, huh?  Not so fast Columbus.  
We  stayed in rooms ranging from $49 to $149.  Only one ($95) was 
worth  the  money.   The rest were uniformly third world quality, 
service  and  value--all at first world prices.  We paid anywhere 
from  $0.80  to  $4.00 for local beer that cost the seller $.033.  
Lobster  that  cost $2.00 and should have retailed for $8-$10 was 
typically  $25+.  We tested the new Melia Conchal for lunch.  You 
ready one  diet Coke, one Pina Colada, two cheeseburgers, tax and 
10% tip:--$47.00; AND the food was average.

Even  better,  we  ate  breakfast  at the San Jose Holiday Inn, a 
quick  buffet with only four items and fruit.  At IHOP it s three 
bucks  even  though they don t pay their staff $1.50 per hour and 
they  do  pay  real  estate  taxes.  In Costa Rica it should have 
been  a  $1.00,  maybe  $1.50  tops.   You  guessed it explorers, 
$12.50  per  person.   Yes  I should have asked first, but it was 
early  in  the  trip and I didn t know tourist meant food fish in 
Costa Rican.

But you can drink the water.

And  if  you  are  very  well  prepared, speak the language (that 
would  be  Spanish  NOT  English),  have  a  sense  of humor, and 
consider  yourself  durable, there are pieces of a lovely country 
still  out  there  populated  by interesting and fun folks.  Yes, 
yes,  yes,  I  am  keenly aware that this country was not founded 
and  populated  for my edification.  However, it was suggested by 
the  government s  tourist  bureau,  multiple  guidebooks, travel 
agents,  and  assorted vacation hawkers that my compatriots and I 
spend  our money within its borders.  This is an implied contract 
of  sorts,  don t  you think? We pay and you show us a good time; 
or  at  least  show  us  what  you  said  was  here  when we were 

How to have fun in Costa Rica
Lets  begin  by listing the World Class things about the country, 
shall we:
1. It has an erupting Volcano.                                                         
        top 10  

2. Scuba Diving with enormous fish, 15 minutes from shore                       
        top 10

3. Sport fishing                                                          
        top  5  

4. Windsurfing                                                      
        top  2

5. Close  proximity  river  rafting  (class  I-V),  riding,  sea 
kayaking                   top 20

6.  You  can  swim  in both oceans, Caribbean and Pacific, on the 
same day, without monumental effort.
       top  10

7. Twenty  seven  percent  of  its  land  mass  is in protected 
       top   5

8.   A new Robert Trent Jones course that may end up costing $1.0 
million per hole                                                             
       top 50
And  lets  include some other elements that are by no means world 
class, but may be of interest to a few of you:
1. Legalized gambling
2. Legalized prostitution
3. Interesting  tax and banking laws (think Bob Vesco and Donald 
4.  A population that does not hate Americans, yet

How to proceed

Do  not  stay  in  San Jose.  Do not hub and spoke day trips from 
San  Jose.   If  you  can avoid it, don t even fly over San Jose.  
Stop  thinking  about  San  Jose.  Do not mention Dione Warwick s 
name, they don t remember her and she can t help you here.

You  must  get out into the country.  That s where the cool stuff 
is.   You are going to require assistance, private maps, and more 
than  a  little patience.  Even though the country is tiny, don t 
try  to  fit  in  all  of  its world class elements you ll end up 
spending  way  too  much time on those more than miserable roads.  
No  matter  what the experts tell you, pick one or two spots that 
have  most  of  the  stuff  you  want  to do and stay there.  Our 
completely  biased recommendations will be available in paperback 

Rule # 1:         BE PREPARED
There  are virtually no road signs in the country.  Addresses are 
on  streets  with  no  names  and they read this way: "200 meters 
from  the  white  rock  that  used to be by the Church".  Quaint, 
huh?   Try  finding  that  place  if  you  don t  speak  Spanish.  
Cartography  isn t  even  practiced  in theory here yet, so don t 
rely on the maps.

To  quote  Tucker  Comstock  of  Serendipity  Adventures,  " .the 
potholes  and fog will kill you".  By the way, this is a fearless 
lady and it s her No. 1 Rule.  

Tourism  is crashing badly everywhere in the country.  Had we not 
booked  hotels  in advance we could have saved 50%.  Due to price 
gouging,  poor  facility  design,  and poorer service, the entire 
country has a huge oversupply of rooms.


After  going to nine bookstores and four travel agents, we bought 
the  four  most  current  books  at  a  combined  cost of $65.29:  
Frommers,  Fodors   96,  Choose  Costa  Rica,  and the Costa Rica 
Handbook.   The most current Frommers on the market, in Austin in 
August   96,  was published in 1994; the Fodors  96 was published 
in  1995;  the Costa Rica Handbook in 1994; and Choose Costa Rica 
in 1994.  

Not  only  was  the  information  dated,  in  many  cases  it was 
woefully  inaccurate.  Frommers gave the hotel Sugar Beach one of 
their  "Frommer s  Favorites" the  place  was  literally melting.  
Although  we  had  a  grand  time  eating  and  drinking with the 
managers,  Gordon and Heidi, the hotel itself had seen far better 
days.   And  the  road  in?  .top  5  worst  we  traveled  in the 

Fodor s  96  weighed  in  with  the blindest hotel rec, the Hotel 
Ocotal,   giving   it  one  of  its  highly  touted  stars  (most 
recommended).   Be advised, we either stayed in, or inspected, 27 
hotels  in three weeks.  El Ocotal was hands down the worst.  The 
service  was pitiful.  The facility was run down and other than a 
few,  the staff was asleep.  They would not play music in the bar 
or  the  restaurant, only CNN day and night.  At night they would 
not  dim  the  lights  in  the  bar  or restaurant, keeping it so 
bright  you  needed  to  wear  a  hat  or order Chinese food.  On 
arrival  we  ordered a massage for the following day.  A no show.  
We  asked  to  have our a/c fixed, three times.  We asked to have 
screens  reinstalled  on our windows to combat the mosquitoes and 
lack  of a/c, three times.  The "recommended beach" was so strewn 
with  litter and garbage that the hotel s Dive Shop employees had 
to  wade  through  it  to  get  to  the water.  We were there two 
days.  No, they never picked it up.

And   this   gem   also   from  Frommer s  re:  Manuel  Antonio s 
international  reputation,  " .simply  that it is one of the most 
beautiful  locations  in  the country ..Gazing down  it is almost 
impossible  to hold back a gasp of delight."  Excuse me?  It took 
us  ten  hours  round  trip from Flamingo to go for the gasp.  It 
wasn t  quite  that  fabulous.   Frankly,  it  was disgusting and 
disconcerting.    A   brief   explanation  for  you  devotees  of 
Frommer s:

Manuel   Antonio  is  a  national  park  comparable  in  hype  to 
Yellowstone  in  the  US.   To enter Manuel Antonio you must wade 
across  an  estuary  at  low  tide  or  be paddled across for 100 
colones  at  high  tide.   Pretty  cool, Disney kinda action with 
waves  breaking  in  the  bay.   Unfortunately, legal and illegal 
businesses  just  upstream  are  pouring raw sewage in the river.  
You  guessed it, this is one of those spots that some of my local 
drinking  companions  were  laughing about.  This spot supposedly 
gets  70%  of  the  tourists  who land at San Jose Airport, about 
350,000   people   each  year  and  each  one  pays  $6  for  the 
opportunity  to  surf  the sewer system.  Yes, I was one of them.  
No, I am not happy about it.

The  disconcerting  part  is  that  this  is  a  country  that is 
promoting  Eco-tourism,  and  God  knows  that is a concept whose 
time  has come.  They re grossing $2.1 million per year and can t 
/  won t  stop  people from defecating at the front door of their 
Number  One  tourist  attraction.   Heaven  knows the US is by no 
means  leading  the  world in Eco responsibility, but we are good 
at  marketing.    I went to art school, but even I know you don t 
ask  someone  to  travel  across  the  world, visit your shinning 
star, and then give it a high colonic while they watch.

To  be  fair  to Frommer s and Fodor s, all of the guidebooks had 
similar  faux  pas  (read completely blind, were they ever there? 
statements).   When  they read this they will undoubtedly want me 
to  list  them for their attorneys.  I will be happy to do so and 
post  the  results  on  the net.  But in the interest of brevity, 
you  guys  need  to trust me on Rule #4.  Talk to people who have 
been there, in person and recently.

Rule   #   5:DO   NOT   COME  HERE  FOR  A  BAHAMAS,  HAWAII,  OR 
COASTAL                          MEXICO STYLE VACATION

To  get  the  most for your money, think active and adventure and 
in  low  season  bring  your  own party. The basic beaches on the 
Pacific   compare   to  Mexico s  (not  much,  but  OK)  with  no 
infrastructure.   That  would  be  great  if  they were deserted.  
They re not.  The ones that are, are for a reason (see above). 

We  met  a  lot of people, but remember we were working and hence 
had  reason  to be thrown into the stream.  Most straight tourist 
folks  will  have  to press to find comrades in low season.   The 
surfers  we  met  were  young  and  had  yet  to  see much action 
elsewhere.   They were enjoying themselves, but bitched about the 
waves and the prices.  

The  top  stuff was the countryside in the interior and the water 
related  excursions.  What follows is our crew s consensus of the 
top events during our three weeks in country:

1. Two earthquakes in Quepos, a 5.0 and a 5.6.
2. Arenal Volcano erupting: "Los Ojos del Diablo".
3.  Crashing  the  balloon  at  dawn into a Teak plantation whose 
owners were kidnapped four days later.
4. Ruff riding at La Garza near Muelle.
5. Rafting the lower Sarapiqui.
6. Sea kayaking with the crocs at Witch s Rock.
7. Bungee jumping off the Colorado bridge.
8. Guaro.
9. Driving.

Our Completely Biased Recommendations

It  was  a  B&B.  Posada Las Palomas on the Rio Grande gorge, 500 
feet  above  the  Colorado  river  (30  minutes  northwest of San 
Jose).   Beautiful native stone and hardwood suites done in James 
Clavell  meets the Caribbean.  Boatloads of indoor/outdoor luxury 
and  privacy.   It rises majestically from the middle of a coffee 
plantation  on  manicured  lawns  surrounded  by  dense  tropical 
flowers  and  30 foot bamboo forests with coffee and orange trees 
marching  to the cliffs.  Mountain and valley views forever.  San 
Jose s  lights  are far enough away that the place actually looks 
enchanting  at  night.   Beautiful, relaxing pool below the great 
house   on  the  bluff.   Two  Rottweilers,  multiple  four  foot 
Iguanas,  and  two  wonderful  owner/managers,  Mike  and  Joanna 

These  people  get it kids ..they re in the hospitality business.  
Both  are  marginally reformed children of the sixties who helped 
build   the  Peace  Corps  before  it  was  fashionable.   Joanna 
designed  the  Inn  and  Mike  built it.  Do not ever visit Costa 
Rica  without  staying  with  or  saying  hello  to these people.  
Absolutely  top  of  the  line.   Call them first and early, they 
don t  have  many  rooms  and  they re gonna be real popular real 

Villa  Caletas  (above  Jaco).   A cliff side, restored Victorian 
mansion  with  ocean  views  to  die  for.  Pricey and toney, but 
carried  off  well.   Stay  in  the  main  house, not the villas.  
Killer  pool.  They advertise culture, but this place oozes other 
impulses.   Don t  take  a  friend,  take  a very good friend and 
don t plan on much small talk.

Hotel  Tilawa  (Lake  Arenal).  Best Mexican food in the country, 
bar  none.   The  owner,  John  Paul,  is  a  windsurfer from New 
Mexico.   He and his crew like to party and in season, this place 
ROCKS.   It s  got  marinas,  great  indoor  and  outdoor  public 
spaces,  boat  trips  to  the volcano (30 minutes), and rooms for 
$50.     The   Equus   bar   is   around   the   corner.    Grand 
drinking/dancing  spot  but  don t  drink  Guaro  with the locals 
unless  you re  prepared to trade up from Mescal.  These guys are 
pros  and  take  no  prisoners.   We  recommend that you train in 
Tilawa s  Delfin  Bar  for a couple of days before you step up to 
the show.

If  you  like  exploding volcanoes, surfing and sailing, mountain 
horseback   riding,   and   homemade  hot  sauce,  Tilawa  should 
definitely be one of your two stops in country.

El  Ocotal.  Just reminding you.  There are not enough lawyers on 
the planet to defend these guys.

Hotel  Tilawa s  Rosetta.   There  is  no  better Mexican food in 
Costa  Rica.   Their homemade hot sauce is as good as anything in 
Austin.   Ask  4 11"  Cecilia to make what ever she s in the mood 
for.   Eat  til  you re  speaking  Spanish,  then  head for Guaro 

Chubasco s,   20 minutes from Posada Las Palomas toward Alajuella 
(Mike  or  Joanna  can  give you directions).  The best real Tico 
food  we  had.   We  heard  of a Neuvo Tico spot in San Jose, but 
couldn t  find it.  Chubasco s does not serve alcohol, but if you 
use  Mike s  name  you  can  bring your own.  The owner s name is 
Alberto.   He  built  the  place  from scratch; employs his whole 
family  and  half the village.  Very local.  Lots of young people 
working with lots of energy.

The  only  way  to  order  is total Tico.  Try the Fiesta Platter 
with  the  cornmeal  and sour cream appetizers or the posole.  Be 
ready  to  be full.  Oh yeah, bring $20 for 4 people, you ll need 
it all.


El  Grande  Escape  in  Quepos.  Marsha Bennett (your proprietor) 
does  a pretty strong tugboat Annie impression.  She s heavy into 
sport  fishing  and  customer  reality sessions.  Don t offer her 
advice  without  your checkbook.  Great spot to hoist several and 
meet  the  local  color.   We  hung out there whenever we were in 
town.   Ask  for Marsha s sidekick, Billy smart guy, a lot of fun 
to drink with and listen to, if he s in the mood to be civil.

The  Del  Ray  Bar  in  the  Hotel  Del Ray, San Jose.  How to be 
polite   about  this?   OK,  it s  where  American  expats  watch 
football,  smoke  Cuban cigars and hang out with SJ s versions of 
42nd  and Broadway.  Not for the timid, but not lacking a certain 
sawdust appeal either.  Don t eat there.

Taos,  San  Jose.   Upscale  yuppie sports bar with Armani suits, 
attorneys,   and   really  pretty  women.   Very  good  food  and 
reasonable prices. The food offset the attorneys nicely.

The  Mariner  Inn  Bar,  Mariner  Inn, Flamingo.  All local color 
(the  locals  are  mostly  gringos).   Adventure  tour guides and 
their  accomplices,  real  estate brokers, F & B workers from the 
other  spots,  and  the  ever  present  covey  of down and outers 
hovering  at  the  equator.   Sort of bank fraud meets Gilligan s 


Most  of  the  casinos  in  the country have two or three tables.  
Blackjack  is  not  recommended,  as you are not given Vegas odds 
and  in  some  cases  the decks are short favoring the house.  If 
you re  gonna play, shoot craps.  We found a straight game at the 
Colonial  in  San  Jose;  Vegas  odds  and dice dealers who could 
count.   Do  not  play  at  the  El Parador or the Divi in Manuel 
Antonio.  You ve been warned.

The  Colonial  is  new,  has  about  20 tables, and is building a 
sports  book  upstairs.   The staff is a tad stiff, but friendly.  
They  had  the  Tyson-Seldon fight on at the bar, no charge.  Use 
Clarence   or   Chester   to  watch  your  car  out  front;  very 
professional street Rastas with a lot of time on their hands.

Ambers,  Flamingo.  We played blackjack here cause they agreed to 
fan  the  deck.  It s a straight game, friendly and well run, but 
remember  the  odds  aren t  as  good as Vegas.  Rustic, open air 
above  the  marina,  with  lovely,  cost  efficient companionship 
available  at  the  bar.  The food is highly touted, but I d pass 
and eat in Brasilito at El Cameron Dorado.


We  toured  with  a  couple  of  companies  and  might  recommend 
Serendipity  of  Michigan  and  Costa  Rica.   It s run by Tucker 
Comstock  and  her  band  of  merry  men.   These  people are not 
normal.   Safe  to  them is almost everyone will live through it.  
We   did  class  III  rapids  in  individual  kayaks  (duckies?); 
galloping  horse  treks  through  fast  rivers  into  the jungle; 
climbed   something  called  the  strangler  tree;  and  hot  air 
ballooned  above  the  rain forest.  They wanted us to kayak with 
500  crocodiles,  rappel down waterfalls, and scuba with enormous 
herds  of  manta  rays.   We told them sure, wait for us, we d be 
right  back;  then  hid  out  in  the  Del  Ray, happy we d lived 
through  the  first  segments.  Eventually we did agree to bungee 
off a 300  bridge above the Colorado just to save face.

There  were  no near death experiences.  They felt we did not get 
our money s worth.

Truthfully,  they ve  got  a  pretty fair grip on providing you a 
custom  trip,  fitted  to  the level of soft or serious adventure 
you  desire.   They weren t perfect in their arrangements, but it 
was  understandable  as  they  work  with natural conditions that 
change  hourly.   We  saw  some  amazing  stuff  and  met several 
candidates  for Ramma of the Jungle.  Steve Whetman (Brit) is the 
ring  leader  who  plans the trips.  Paul (Brit) is your Harrison 
Ford  and  Mariano  (Tico)  " is the only living balloon pilot in 
Costa  Rica".   I m thinking Mariano gets a lot of mileage out of 
this  with  the  ladies.   Alex  (Tico)  drives the chase car and 
handles  supplies.  He doesn t speak English, but is the only one 
you  can  trust  that  positively  wants  to live until tomorrow.  
Stick close to him, he s got a family.

As  much  as  we  liked some elements of the country, we wouldn t 
recommend  going  unless  you  intended to avail yourself of some 
professional s  expertise  and  stumble through their adventures.  
I  include  Serendipity s  number for those of you that have done 
sex,  drugs,  and  rock  n  roll  and  are now ready for the next 
step:   800-635-2325.   I  don t recommend letting them make your 
hotel  (prepaid) reservations.  They didn t perform on several of 
ours   and   haven t/couldn t/wouldn t  provide  refunds.   Happy 


Normally  we  wouldn t offer our advice in this area as part of a 
travel  manifesto  but  Rain  Forest  Bob  merits inclusion.  Bob 
Davey  owns  the  Marina  Trading  Post  in  Flamingo.   You want 
hotels,  beach  front  lots,  2,500  acre  fincas  (farms), Cuban 
cigars Slash  and  Burn Bob is your boy.  He s been down here six 
years  and  is  still  reasonably  sane.  His wife Patty runs the 
Trading  Post  and  uncle  Bob  runs  the town.  If it s about to 
happen  in  Flamingo,  Bob s  got  his  hand  in  it.   If you re 
inclined  to own a piece of Jurassic Park, call Bob and he ll put 
you in a one owner model.


Do  not  go  to  Manuel  Antonio  National Park go to Punta Leone 
Do  not  go  to  the Monteverde Cloud Forest go to Arenal Volcano 
(awesome,  walk  up  to  the  steaming  lava) and the Tabacon hot 
Do  not  go  to San Jose   go straight from the airport to Posada 
Las Palomas.
Do  not  go to Jaco unless you re a surfer or broke, or young and 
Do not go to Hotel El Ocotal.  Our last reminder.


Costa  Rica  offers  some  world  class  adventure  travel  in an 
amazingly   confined   space.    As   with   most   third   world 
destinations,  it s  got some colorful characters, some less than 
comfortable  accommodations  and  no  infrastructure.  Prices are 
way  out  of line at the "resorts" but great in the real country.  
If  you go, and we recommend you do, call Serendipity and/or Mike 
and  Joanna  to  make  your arrangements.  Drive less than we did 
and party more.  Via con Dios.


[Playa  del  Carmen  is  located  about 35 miles south of Cancun. 
It's  one  side  of  the  ferry  to  Cozumel and is a Cruise Ship 
stop.] Viva Club Maya Beach was excellent! 

Its  actually  part of a smaller chain of resorts called the Viva 
Clubs.  I  think  what they're trying to do with these is to fill 
them  with time-shares ("you buy vacations, NOT timeshares!"), so 
I'm  not sure how long you'll be able to book this resort through 
a  travel  agent. There were a LOT of couples walking through the 
place  with a salesperson. We spoke to one couple who was staying 
at  the resort and had decided to take the time-share tour to get 
free  tickets  to  Cozumel.  They  said  it wasn't worth the HIGH 
sales  pitch  and  garbage. [They try to sell you a minimum of 30 
vacations  for  $13,500  and  then  it costs around $240/year for 
some  nonsense  annual  fees  and  explain  how  much  money your 

As  far  as  the  resort  goes,  it's very new (opened in January 
'97),  has  a nice big pool, two restaurants (one big one and one 
near  the  pool).  I  thought the food was very good (some things 
were  excellent  -  like  the GUACAMOLE!, others were average - a 
fair  amount  of  seafood on the menu). I've been to Club Med and 
found  the  food  to be comparable, if not a tiny bit better. The 
bar service (two main bars) was downright excellent! 

Rooms  were  nice,  two double beds, and included a small balcony 
with  view  of  the ocean. The grounds are kept up impeccably and 
there  are  many  flowers/ornamental  shrubs  around. One strange 
thing  is  the  lack of purified water in the rooms. Instead they 
give  you  a  one  liter  bottle of water every day for drinking, 
brushing  your  teeth,  etc.  I  thought  this  was  a  bit of an 
annoyance.  Another  small  thing, there is no dead-bolt or chain 
on  the  door,  so  anyone  with a key can't walk right into your 
room  -this  actually  happened a few times when the maid decided 
it  was  time  to clean the room (say excuse me while opening the 
door)  and  also once a manager barged in and asked us if we were 
checking  out  (we  had just checked in!). Rooms come with a safe 
deposit  box  and a smaller color TV (no remote) that has HBO and 

The  tennis courts weren't quite through yet, but they allowed us 
to  play  down  the  road  at  the golf club for free - they even 
provided  racquets/balls.  The  courts  are probably finished now 

They  have  a very nice weight room, but unfortunately isn't air-
conditioned  and  has  no  water -so bring some w/you if you work 

Staff  was  VERY friendly and they had daily activities including 
dance  (mamba/meringue) lessons, water aerobics, volleyball/water 
polo, beach/egg toss, beach walk to cenote, etc. 

Entertainment  was  pretty  fun  but  varied  nightly  - i.e. the 
guest/talent  show  one night was pretty bad but the rendition of 
Grease  by  all  of  the  employees was quite good. They have a 
HUGE  outdoor  stage right in the middle of the resort. The disco 
opened  after  the  show  around 11:00 PM - its open-air and very 
BOOMY.  It  seemed  to  attract  a lot of the employees and their 

One  really  nice  feature  was the bikes you can take out at the 
resort.  We used them to tool around the Playacar resort area and 
go into town (only about 1.5 mile each way). 

Erosion  seems  to  be a BIG problem at Playa del Carmen. Most of 
the  resorts  North  of Club Maya Beach had there beaches reduced 
SIGNIFICANTLY  by  the  higher  winds and waves. For instance the 
Diamond  Resort  (right  next  door) didn't have much beach left! 
Club  Maya  Beach  had plenty of beach though (and topless action 
too ;-0 ), so don't worry about it here - for now anyway. 

We  met  a  lot  of  people from the N.H./Boston area too! A fair 
amount of Europeans were also at the resort. 

Visiting  the  city  of  Playa del Carmen is only $3-4 US by taxi 
and  is  fun  -  especially  at  night. We went to the restaurant 
Media Luna and it was very good. 

Have fun and avoid the timeshare salespitch! 


  My  wife and I just returned from a fabulous week-long vacation 
on   St.  Lucia.  We thought we'd post  our experience in case it 
would be helpful for others.

As  you  have  probably  read elsewhere, St. Lucia is a beautiful 
island.    We  loved  the  lush  vegetation,  the  fresh tropical 
fruits,  and  the   incredible  scenery  found around the island, 
especially  the  Pitons  and   the  tropical rain forest.  If you 
want  to  adventure out beyond your  resort hotel, St. Lucia is a 
great place to check out.


It  rained  briefly  almost  every  night  during our week in St. 
Lucia  (I   guess  that's what keeps everything so green), but it 
never  failed  to   clear  up  in  the  morning; we enjoyed great 
weather  during  our  stay.    Highs  were  in the low 80's every 
day.   At night, we always enjoyed a  nice cool breeze, but never 
had  to  worry  about  getting  cold  or  even  needing a jacket.  
Humidity  was  not  nearly  as  bad as I expected, and  we had no 
problems with insects, even when we went through the forest.

The Hotel

The  Wyndham  is  an  all  inclusive  resort,  so we never had to 
venture  far   for  a  meal  or a good tropical drink.  We really 
enjoy  the no hassle  experience of the all inclusives; there are 
no  bills  to  be  paid,  and  no tips to be made; just relax and 
enjoy!   We  found  the grounds at the  Wyndham to be beautifully 
maintained, the rooms were nice, and the staff  friendly.

The Food

The  food at the Wyndham was great.  Breakfast is a buffet served 
in  the   main  restaurant  (the  resort has two).  Try the fresh 
fruits  or  the  made   to  order  omelets!  For lunch you have a 
choice  between  a  buffet  in the  main restaurant, or something 
from  the grill at the Palm Grill.  Seems  like we always ate too 
much,  but  it's vacation, after all.  For dinner  you again have 
two  choices:   At  the  main restaurant you can have a sit  down 
meal,  where  you  order off a menu.  Reservations and long pants 
are   required.   The Palm Grill has a buffet dinner.  Each night 
has  a  different theme, and lots of choices to boot.  You really 
can't go  wrong either way.

Daytime Activities

Your  day  at  the  Wyndham can be as relaxed or as active as you 
like.    One  day  in  particular serves as a great contrast.  My 
wife,  nursing  the   effects  of  a  few too many "all included" 
drinks  the  night  before, spent  the entire day relaxing by the 
pool.   By the time I was ready for dinner,  I had gone swimming, 
sailing,   water-skiing,  tubing,  kayaking,  won  a   bottle  of 
Champaign  in  a ping pong tournament, and played tennis.   There 
are  organized  activities  scheduled  throughout  the  day, from 
group   tennis  or golf lessons, to volleyball games or horseshoe 
contests.    Sign-up!   It's  a great way to meet people, and you 
don't have to be  good to win a prize.

Only  downside:   The  beach  at  the Wyndham is great for water-
sports,  but   not  the  ideal spot for snorkeling.  If you are a 
serious  diver,  or  want   to  be  able to snorkel right by your 
hotel,  best  bet  is  a  hotel  in the  southwest portion of the 

The  Wyndham  has  four  tennis  courts.   Two  are hardcourt and 
lighted;  two   are  grass courts.  St. Lucia is probably not the 
Island  for  serious   golfers,  but  you can play.  We had a pro 
from  the St. Lucia Golf Club  (9 hole course) give a free lesson 
at  the  putting green at the hotel.   18 holes of golf will cost 
you  $27,  plus  a  cart  if you want it.  The  pro said he would 
throw  in  free  club  rental for anyone who attended his  class.  
One of the Sandals resorts also has a golf course.


While  perhaps  not  worldclass, the entertainment at the Wyndham 
was   enjoyable.   The  main  bar at the resort stayed open until 
midnight,  and  had some type of entertainment every night: local 
bands,  flame  eating   limbo  dancing, etc.  The bar at the Palm 
Grill  stayed  open until 1:00.   St. Lucia seems to be more of a 
couples destination than a singles hot  spot.


While  I  could probably just play beach volleyball by the resort 
and  be   happy,  a  visit  to  St.  Lucia  would not be complete 
without  getting  out   to  experience  some  of the Island.  Two 
experiences we'd recommend:

The  Jeep  Safari tour is an all day event that takes you up into 
the   mountains by the rainforest.  Our guide, "Big Joe" was part 
philosopher,   part comedian; he did a great job giving us a feel 
for  the history and  local culture of the island.  We spent part 
of  the day hiking up to swim  in a waterfall in the forest, then 
had  lunch  at  Marigot Bay (beautiful!)  and spent the afternoon 

Once  you've  seen  the  island  by  land,  a trip by water is in 
order.    There are several official organized tours you can take 
for  around  $75   US, but if you stay at the Wyndham, we found a 
more  unique experience  that I would highly recommend!  There is 
a  guy  named Joey who operates  his own boat and organizes tours 
from  the  beach  by  the  hotel.   You  will   get  a  much more 
personalized  tour (8 people instead of 80), and Joey  really has 
a  smooth  operation.   He  takes  you  down the West side of the  
Island  by  boat,  then drops you off in Soufriere, where you are 
taken   by  bus inside the volcano to see the hot sulfur springs, 
then   off  to  a   5  minute  hike  to  a  natural  hot  springs 
waterfall.   Lunch  is  fabulous,   served  on a quiet stretch of 
beach  and  cooked by Joey's mom.  After  lunch Joey takes you to 
Anse  Chastanet  beach,  which is said to be the  best snorkeling 
on the Island.  Bring your underwater camera!

There's much more to see, but time ran short for us. Have fun!


Travel to St. Lucia:

I  flew  a  non-stop charter from Boston to the larger airport to 
the  south  (Hewanorra).  My  brother and parents took a one-stop 
charter  from  Detroit.  The  airport is small compared to the US 
but  very  well  organized.  As  we  arrived in a long line to go 
through  customs,  a  customs  agent  came  up  and  lead us to a 
customs  entry  especially  for  parties with children or special 
needs  (we  have  a  4  and  7  yr  old). No one else was in this 
line...Very nice!

Travel  from  the  airport to most resorts is long (1 to 1.5 hrs) 
but  interesting, winding through little villages and many banana 
plantations.  However,  even  the  strongest  stomachs (including 
mine)  seem  to have problems with car sickness due to the curves 
and  hills.  Here's  a  word of advice that my son needed to take 
advantage  of:  Bring  along  an  air sickness bag from the plane 
just  in  case.  The  trip is nothing to dread, just be ready for 
it.  There  are  helicopters  that  can  take  you to some of the 
resorts  in  about  15  minutes, but its $100/person one way. The 
cab for 4 one way was $55 US.

(There  is  a  smaller  airport in Castries called Vigie which is 
much  closer to many of the resorts to the north. I was told that 
smaller  planes use it, but it can be accessed from Miami via San 
Juan  or  from  many  of the other nearby islands. Or if you have 
your own jet....mine was broken (right!)) 


We  stayed  at  the  Windjammer  Landing  north of Castries. This 
place  consists  of  villas on a steep slope overlooking the sea. 
Absolutely  spectacular  views of hills, cruise ships heading off 
into  the sunset, etc. and nice breezes. Nice beach but small. In 
general,  the  beaches in St. Lucia were not as nice in Barbados. 
The  island is mostly volcanic, so the sand is brown or gray, and 
not  as  soft  or pretty as the coral-based sand in Barbados. But 
who  can complain when you have turquoise 80-degree water, right? 
The  resort  was well prepared for children, but as I experienced 
at  a  similar  resort in Barbados, they make it easy for couples 
to  avoid  kids  if  they  want.  If you go, stay in a villa with 
plunge pool, its worth the extra cost.

We  spoke  to  some people who stayed at Wyndham Morgan, which is 
between  Castries  and  our  place, and said they liked it. I saw 
signs  for some other resorts, but didn t see or hear anything to 
be able to give an opinion.

>From  what I have heard, the place for couples with money is Anse 
Chastenet.  It  is  located south of Castries near Soufriere with 
incredible views of the Pitons (more on them later). 

Things to do:

Our  favorite experience was a day-trip on the Brig Unicorn. This 
175-ft  wooden  sailboat  was  a  beautiful way to see the island 
without  the carsickness. We left Castries at 9AM and cruised for 
about  2.5  hrs to Soufriere. They served juice, coffee, tea, and 
Danish  on  the  way  down.  The view of the Pitons as we entered 
Soufriere  harbor  was  indescribable, shooting 2,500 ft straight 
out  of  the  ocean. We then transferred to a minivan for a short 
ride  to  the  sulfur  springs.  The  springs  consist of several 
bubbling  black  springs,  and really aren't much to look at, but 
the  trip  is  so  short  we  didn't  mind.  The sulfur smell was 
strong, as my 4-yr old said "it stanked".

The  minivan then took us to the botanical gardens for a much too 
short  visit.  This  part of the island is a rain forest, and the 
gardens  have  beautiful  examples  of  many tropical flowers and 
trees.  The  only downside was that there were too many tourists, 
most  apparently  from  some  cruise  ships. However, if you have 
time,  plan  on  spending  an  1.5 hr or so wandering around this 

Back  to  the  ship,  where  little  local  boys  on  the dock in 
Soufriere  will  ask  you to throw change off the dock which they 
retrieve  in  their teeth before it hits the bottom. After we set 
sail,  we  had  a wonderful lunch, French wine, drinks, etc. Then 
we  anchored  and  went  swimming  off the ship including using a 
rope to swing off the deck! Then back to Castries by 4 PM.

Although  I  have  read  about  this type of cruise before, I was 
always  worried  it would be a boozy, loud, tacky experience. Not 
this ship. Very classy, but a lot of fun for kids too. 

We  also  went  to  Pigeon  Island  near Rodney Bay to the north. 
There  is  an  interesting  colonial  fort  here,  and  some nice 
beaches.  I  would  recommend  renting  a  car and parking on the 
causeway  that  leads  to  the  island before going on the island 
itself.  There  is  a nice white sand beach that just goes on and 
on.  Once  you  are  on  the  island, there are two nice but very 
small  beaches.  We  took  a ferry from Rodney Bay to the island, 
and  later  wished  we  had  been on our own schedule so we could 
have stayed longer on the causeway beaches.


We  ate  at  the resort except for one night. I found the food to 
be  quite  good,  but  not  spectacular.  We ate one night at the 
Green  Parrot  in  Castries,  but I found it to be overpriced and 
overdone French food. 


I  was  pleasantly surprised that the people were much nicer than 
in  Barbados.  The  St. Lucians are well-spoken and almost always 
very  nice.  They are quick to answer questions, and are ready to 
give  good advice. Barbadians, on the other hand, are often aloof 
and  sullen, with little eye contact and little apparent interest 
in helping.

Stuff to buy:

The  open  market  in  Castries  is worth a visit. There are many 
stands  filled  with  tropical  fruits,  most  of which you won t 
recognize,  but  the best part are the spices. Every form you can 
imagine  of  fresh  ginger,  cinnamon,  nutmeg,  saffron, pepper, 
vanilla,  etc.  They sell them in little baskets or bags, or just 
as  sticks or nuts. Definitely worth the visit. Across the street 
are  numerous  stands  with  just about every possible form of T-
shirt  imaginable.  Although  I m  not  a big T-shirt fan, even I 
found  ones  I  liked. If you like Bob Marley shirts, you ve come 
to the right place.

Also  in  Castries  is the duty free shops at Pt. Seraphine. This 
area  is  right next to the cruise ship docking area. If you like 
sanitized  shops  that  mostly sell products that have nothing to 
do  with St. Lucia, and like being elbow to elbow with the cruise 
ship crowd, this is the place for you.

We  visited  the  Bagshaws  Studio on the hill south of Castries, 
right  next  the  Sandals resort. They have several stores on the 
island and sell nice batik shirts, dresses, etc. 


People  use  the  Eastern  Caribbean  (EC)  dollar here, which is 
equal  to  about  38 cents. But everyone I met took US money too. 
Things  are  expensive  in  St.  Lucia (except for the spices and 
fruit),  but I suspect this is the case on all Caribbean islands. 
Our  resort  was  not all-inclusive, and after staying at an all-
inclusive  in Barbados for the previous two years, I did not like 
the  idea  of charging every little glass of juice or beer to the 
room.  It  just  seems  psychologically  easier  to  have  it all 
included,  especially  after  your  kids  take two bites out of a 
$6.00 hamburger and say they aren t hungry!

When  you  take  cabs or other trips, the drivers, etc. do expect 
tips.  I had no problem with that, since they were always willing 
to  tell  you  all  about their country, or the food, or whatever 
you  were  interested  in  hearing  about. In Barbados, it seemed 
like  they  wanted  a  tip  after  mostly ignoring your existence 
(don t  get me wrong, I loved Barbados, its just a very different 

That's  all I can think of for now. I hope this was some help. My 
tan is already fading :(

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